I keep reminding myself that we really wanted this to happen: CIOs have wanted the healthcare industry, if not the entire nation, to realize the importance and value of using information technology to improve care delivery and help providers do a better job.
Making professional growth a priority
Who would have thought that all those dreams would come true—all at once and in spades. Over the past seven years, concepts such as the electronic health record for all Americans have transitioned from being a lofty goal to one of the nation's top objectives.
And we don't just have a trickle of excitement; as IT executives, we're getting it all at once, with no break in the action. Meaningful use, ICD-10, 5010 transactions, ACO transitions, and privacy and confidentiality issues mean the challenges we face are a constant barrage.
With so much on our plates, the understandable gut-level reaction is to focus as much time and energy as possible on today's fires and tomorrow's plan and limit any other professional challenges to the bare minimum. It is a matter of day-to-day survival, after all.
Unfortunately, this "extinguish the fire" mentality won't do much more than ensure that we'll be putting out conflagrations for the foreseeable future. It is classic reactive management, and this is exactly the approach that will make our lives miserable. There are too many important projects, too many critical decisions and too many essential choices to use a "seat of the pants" approach.
As hard as it may seem, now is the time to challenge ourselves to maximize our professional growth. We need to fully understand how our IT world fits into the puzzle of total healthcare delivery. We need to understand our IT resources and optimally manage them with expertise and knowledge. And we need to develop deep two-way trust with the other executives in our organizations.
It seems counterintuitive to take on more challenges, more training, more professional efforts when we're feeling overwhelmed. But we have no chance to survive without becoming better and optimizing our abilities.
I'm a firm believer in education. I believe we should each be seeking more education so as to better manage and assess our strategy and direction. And we should test ourselves to make sure that we are progressing. While a general sense of "I'm getting better" may have met yesterday's requirements, today we need a more solid demarcation of progress.
We can take courses and get degrees—that offers some level of feedback—but it doesn't fit everyone's situational constraints. We can network with colleagues and attend conferences, but these activities don’t provide the essential feedback component on our development.
One opportunity for gauging progress is through professional certification. I am not recommending that you go out and get certified on the latest and greatest technical certification—that really doesn't reflect the current requirements of our jobs. What I would suggest is that we seek out certifications that reflect the new performance standards of our profession. If you want a benchmark, then compare yourself with your peers and monitor your progress.
Healthcare historically has recognized the importance of education for professionals and executives. For example, the American College of Healthcare Executives offers the opportunity to advance to become a Fellow (FACHE). It requires an exam, ACHE membership, an advanced degree and two years' experience in healthcare management. Earning a FACHE makes a statement about the degree of knowledge a CIO has about healthcare in general as well as their commitment to personal advancement and staying current in today’s complex environment.
In terms of healthcare IT certifications, HIMSS offers its Certified Professional in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CPHIMS) program. In addition to passing an exam, the CPHIMS designation requires education and health information management experience.
The most recent certification path for CIOs is through CHIME's new designation of a Certified Healthcare CIO (CHCIO). While part of this process includes passing a difficult exam, other requirements include experience (you need to be a CIO for three years to qualify), intense study of core material and continuing education effort. I was the director of the CHCIO program when it was developed and launched, and it was developed by CIOs with the intent of grounding it in real-world capabilities that CIOs need in be successful in today’s increasingly complex healthcare world.
Whatever the approach, CIOs need to commit themselves to demonstrating self-improvement and benchmarking their progress, even as they are in the midst of major initiatives and organizational transition. The breadth of change over the next several years, and the importance of executing those changes successfully, means we’ll have to deliver at a higher level than ever before.
Professionally, we need to demonstrate to our fellow senior executives that we can handle all these challenges, that we understand the impact to our organizations and we can articulate our plan to customers, building their confidence in the importance of this transition process and our ability to both "plan the work" and "work the plan."
If we don’t like this new world—well, unless we have a paid-off, well-stocked island somewhere—I don’t believe we have an option. As the top IT executive in our organizations, we have obligations to deliver—you know the line—faster, better, cheaper. And to deliver, we’ll need every bit of expertise we can scrape together to be successful.
Timothy StettheimerSenior vice president and regional CIO St. Vincent’s Health System Birmingham, Ala.
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